There is good news. Ricin is organic, a naturally occurring lectin (toxalbumin) made from from the castor oil plant Ricinus communis so you can use it in good conscience. Given the common nature of castor beans- the plants grow wild all over the place - and the fact that it was weaponized by the Canadian and US military in World War II but studied even as early as World War I, it's a surprise no one had used ricin to try and kill anyone a lot more before now, but it really only began to show up in 2003.(1) Yet another thing we can blame on President George W. Bush. Prior to that it was just in James Bond type stuff, like the KGB using an umbrella and ricinto murder Bulgarian dissident Georgi Markov in 1978.
But now it is such a big fad that, like gluten-free diets, even actresses are doing it.
Because getting ricin from castor beans requires no knowledge of science, it is perfect for organic shoppers and environmental group employees. Yet they are not the only activists who are catching on to the fad. New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg had some mailed to him and it implicated pro-gun people. It's hard to imagine anyone dumb enough to mention Bloomberg's gun control laws in the letter and have it not instead actually be a gun ban person - the opposite is where cops look in obvious cases like that. Elvis impersonator Kevin Curtis was initially jailed and accused of sending ricin-poisoned letters to President Obama but then it turned out to be an enemy of his doing a frame job.
See, even Elvis impersonators are getting implicated. Ricin is finally getting its due as the 'perfect poison'.
Thomas Pittman, a retired professor at the University of Southern Mississippi and an expert in toxicology, told the Associated Press that ricin has a number of qualities that make it desirable to someone bent on doing harm: The ingredients are relatively easy to obtain, it's not that hard to make a crude form of it, it's deadly and it's hard to detect in a victim's body. "It's the perfect poison."
But not all activists are going to be as apparent as mailing it to an anti-gun mayor claiming to be a pro-gun group. Dr. Nico Dauphine of the Smithsonian's Migratory Bird Center at the National Zoo used rat poison to try and kill cats outside an apartment complex, for example. Had she used ricin to protect feathered friends in her neighborhood instead, she would likely have gotten away with it.
Ricin. The "B" chain (in blue) is the targeting mechanism, and the "A" chain (in red) is the toxic portion. When a person is poisoned, millions of the molecules of ricin bind to carbohydrates on the surface of the cell and chaperone the toxin inside. Most of these never make it to the cytoplasm, but one is enough. A disulfide linkage between the chains (shown here in yellow) is broken, and the A chain travels through the cytoplasm, inactivating 1500 ribosomes per minute and ultimately killing the cell. Credit and link: RCSB Protein Data Bank
How will you know if an activist is poisoning someone you know, or your animals?
Well, if you are a farmer worried about PETA people trying to set you up using fowl methods, chickens will show signs of depression - no, really, chickens get depressed. They'll have roughened feathers and droopy wings. Cattle may have bloody diarrhea and pigs will vomit a lot. Bonus Clue: a surprise inspection including a PETA employee with a video camera would also tip you off that you have been Kevin Curtis'ed.
If you are worried about yourself, heat your food to over 176 degrees Fahrenheit - it is made inert by high heat. Also, check your spouse's Netflix queue to see if they have been watching movies like "The Sixth Sense" and check their web browser bookmarks too - if they say they are doing research on how to kill cancer cells using ricin and they are not a cancer researcher, be worried.
If you are convinced you have been poisoned, go to an emergency room. Depending on how you got it (you would know if someone threw it in your eyes, for example, but in your food would be less obvious) they have different treatments but there is no antidote so you have to go old school. They will flush your stomach with activated charcoal and give you intravenous fluids and probably medication to prevent seizures or low blood pressure.
(1) In modern times, anyway. There is evidence ricin was killing people 44,000 years ago.